By Kyle Dodd
Thousands of people will soon gather in downtown to share their ideas, inventions and innovations at this year’s One Spark festival.
One Spark, the world’s largest crowdfunding festival, is Jacksonville’s own creation. What began as a simple idea has grown into the huge event it is today, offering a platform for others to grow their own ideas as well.
This year will mark the third annual One Spark festival. Since the festival’s inaugural event in 2013 its attendance has risen from around 130,000 to over 260,000 in 2014 and is expected to continue growing.
But there are still many who have no idea what One Spark is.
It has been compared to South by Southwest, a music and film festival held in Austin, Texas, and ArtPrize, an art festival held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Co-founder of One Spark Elton Rivas has described the Jacksonville event as a combination of these two festivals with an added Kickstarter element where attendees can donate to support festival creators.
The One Spark festival is a place where entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, dreamers, humans of all kinds can come together to share what they have created or want to create. They come for the opportunities that abound at One Spark, like increasing exposure, getting immediate feedback from the public or winning some of the 350 thousand dollar crowdfunding award and the potential interest of investors.
“They get to compete for crowdfunding dollars, awards, potential capital investment, person-to-person contributions, visibility for the idea, market feedback and validation, and also just connecting with other creators,” said Meredith O’Malley Johnson, community and public relations director for One Spark.
“So the idea is One Spark connects great ideas to the resources to make them happen.”
Resources include crowdfunding and cash prizes as well as potential capital investment opportunities. Crowdfunding works by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people and is a key component to many startups.
But here the crowdfund acts as a reward to creators whose projects garner public support. The funds are dispersed among creators in direct proportion to the amount of the overall votes they receive from festivalgoers. Additional cash prizes are awarded to the top voted in each category and to the project that raises the most money during the festival.
Capital investment opportunities offer creators another means of reaching their goals. Capital investors attend One Spark each year in search of fresh and promising ideas to invest in. This year there is expected to be nearly 3.5 million dollars in potential investment funding from capital investors at the festival.
“It just is a really fun, high-energy place to showcase your idea and your project, which was really fun,” said One Spark 2014 creator Ellen Hiser. “It was a lot of work and a lot of energy required, but the more you got good responses and interest, the more energy you got even though you were kind of exhausted.”
The creators are the stars of the festival. Creator ideas take the form of projects and fall into the categories of art, music, health & science, technology, education and social good. Anyone with an idea, at any stage in development, operating with less than a $1 million dollar-a-year budget may participate as a creator. Creator projects range from inventions which make listening to music a visual experience to non-profits dedicated to researching to fighting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
Creators set up their projects in one of over 70 venues spread out over 20 square blocks of downtown Jacksonville.
Venues vary in size and style, from restaurants to museums to street corners. Any space that holds at least two projects can constitute a venue. Larger venues, like the Jacksonville Landing, can hold anywhere from 50 to 100 creator projects. Workscapes was one of those venues last year.
“I think it’s really important to be a part of the community,” said Sara Bermudez, director of sales for Workscapes in Jacksonville. “We really felt like participating in One Spark helped the Jacksonville community and also helped us get engaged within that community.”
Venue curators manage these spaces. They choose what projects they want and where they will go. Curators may select projects from a wide variety of categories or stick with just a couple.
Established purveyors of food and drink also have the chance to boost their business at One Spark as a vendor. The Food Village is where Jacksonville’s restaurants, food trucks and brewers can come sell their goods and raise awareness of their business. The Food Village is expanding from two to four city blocks this year and is also ramping up seating areas to accommodate the growing popularity of this section of the festival.
The beer village will also be returning this year. Intuition Ale Works will again bring their signature brews as well as specialty brews made just for One Spark, including One Spark Kölsch and One Spark Alt. The beer village will be set up for the whole festival on Adams Street.
But the festival doesn’t end when the creators and venues shut down for the day. One Spark After Dark is the festival’s night-life scene where attendees and creators can come party with local bands and DJ’s. Creators can take off their business hats and join other creators and festival-goers in a purely social setting and offers a unique perspective on the whole event.
One Spark is free to attend and festival-goers are encouraged to vote on and support their favorite projects.
Attendees may vote for each project once with no limit on how many projects they can vote for. The top winners in each category are awarded 15 thousand dollars and other awards are given based on criteria such as most voted for overall or most money raised during the festival.
But the most important thing to creators was the immediate feedback about their ideas.
“On the creator surveys last year they cited ‘market feedback and validation’ as the most important thing they got out of One Spark,” said Johnson. “So being able to test their ideas and their products and their projects with the general public is a really unique thing that we are trying to offer.”
It is easy to understand the festival’s popularity. In a country with so much big business it can be difficult to get an idea or business off the ground. Even if it is a brilliant idea, without the proper exposure and resources it could fade away.
The One Spark festival serves as a platform to show the community those ideas and gather support for them.
“It was a great success,” said 2013 One Spark creator Josh Salestrom. “We really had a wonderful amount of feedback from that.”
“Last year I contended for the juried prize, which was really neat. I didn’t get it, but I was pleased with that,” said past creator and artist Kathy Stark. “To me that aspect of having jurors for each category and winning an extra ten thousand, that made it more worth competing.”
One Spark will be held from Tuesday April 7 to Sunday April 12. For more information on One Spark projects, venues and past events visit onespark.com.
Find out more about One Spark at onespark.com.